Jeff VanderMeer has been a longtime contributor to Omnivoracious.com, so when we heard he had a new book coming out, we were excited to read it. Of course, there's always that concern of "what if it's not that good?" But in this case, those concerns quickly flew out the window. It's even a Best of the Month selection for February.
Below is a photo-essay from Jeff. Enjoy.
This year, FSG is publishing my Southern Reach trilogy, starting with Annihilation this month, then Authority in May and Acceptance in September. The trilogy chronicles the attempts of a secret government agency, the Southern Reach, to decipher the meaning of a place called Area X. For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious, remote, and concealed by the government—to all appearances pristine wilderness. For thirty years, too, the Southern Reach has sent expeditions into Area X to try to discover the truth. Some expeditions have suffered terrible consequences. Others have reported nothing out of the ordinary.
The first novel, Annihilation tells the story of the twelfth expedition—through the eyes of a nameless biologist. Their mission is to chart the wilderness, take samples, and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X. But they soon find out that the information given to them about Area X is incomplete or inaccurate, and that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An old abandoned lighthouse and a tunnel plunging into the ground hold secrets none of them are prepared to face. A moaning in the distance at dusk seems to have no natural cause.
The second novel, Authority, examines the problem of Area X from within the Southern Reach, through the eyes of John Rodriguez, aka “Control,” who takes over as director of the agency and begins to investigate the fate of the twelfth expedition. Acceptance, the third novel, chronicles the Southern Reach’s increasingly desperate efforts to find answers while bringing the reader back into Area X, albeit under much-changed circumstances.
The exact location of Area X is left vague, but it’s based in part on my hiking in North Florida’s Panhandle region, much of which contains a rich ecosystem of swamp, marsh, pine forest, lakes, and coastal habitats. It’s a place you can get lost in, which is rare these days, and it’s unbelievably beautiful as well. There actually is a lighthouse out at the St. Marks’ Wildlife Refuge, too.
So when Omni asked if I’d give readers some teasing glimpses into the Southern Reach and Area X, I thought it made sense to pair a brief abridged excerpt from each novel with images from the region—all of which are by Tallahassee photographer Riko Carrion.
From Annihilation: The biologist, setting off for the lighthouse after the disappearance of two expedition members…
“Now a strange mood took hold of me, as I walked silent and alone through the last of the pines and the cypress knees…It was as if I traveled through the landscape with the sound of an expressive and intense aria playing in my ears. Everything was imbued with emotion, awash in it, and I was no longer a biologist but somehow the crest of a wave building and building but never crashing to shore. I saw with such new eyes the transition to the marsh, the salt flats. As the trail became a raised berm, dull, algae-choked lakes spread out to the right and a canal flanked it on the left. Rough channels of water meandered out in a maze through a forest of reeds…islands, oases of wind-contorted trees, appeared in the distance like sudden revelations...The quality of light upon this habitat, the stillness of it all, the sense of waiting, brought me halfway to a kind of ecstasy.”
From Authority: The director of the Southern Reach, watching the video from a failed expedition into Area X…
The wreckage of the old walls formed deeper shadows against the sky, and he could just see the wide line that was the stone path running through. In the foreground, a woman, the expedition leader, was shouting, “Get her to stop!” Her face was made a mask by the light from the recorder and the way it formed such severe shadows around her eyes and mouth. Opposite, across a kind of crude fire-burned picnic table a woman, the expedition leader, shouted “Get her to stop!” “Please stop!” “Please stop!” A lurch and spin of the camera and then it steadied. The person holding the camera began to hyperventilate, and Control recognized the sound he had heard before was a kind of whispered breathing with a shallow rattle threading through it. Not the wind at all. The woman on the left of the screen then stopped shouting and stared into the camera. The woman on the right also stopped shouting, stared into the camera. An identical fear and pleading and confusion radiated from the masks of their faces toward him, from so far away, from so many years away. He could not distinguish between the two manifestations, not in that murky light.
Then, sitting bolt upright, even knowing what was to come, Control realized it was not dusk that had robbed the setting behind them of any hint of color. It was more as if something had interceded on the landscape, something so incredibly large that its edges were well beyond the camera’s lens. In the last second of the videotape, the two women still frozen and staring, the backdrop seemed to shift and keep shifting…
From Acceptance, an expedition passing by the lighthouse once more…
The lighthouse rose from fog and reflections like a mirror of itself, the beach gray and cold, the sand rasping against the hull of the boat as they abandoned it in the shallows. The waves came in small and half-curling like the froth of malformed questions. The lighthouse did not resemble her memory of it, for its sides had been scoured by fire, discoloration extending all the way to the top, where the lens, the light within, lay extinguished. The fire had erupted from the landing windows as well, and in combination with the bits of broken glass, and all of the other talismans human beings had rendered up to it over the years, gave the lighthouse the appearance of something shamanistic. Even the haphazard wall put up by long-dead defenders contributed to the impression that it was hiding, in a useless attempt to fit in with its surroundings. Reduced now to a daymark for their boat, the simplest of its functions, the one task that, unperformed, made a lighthouse no longer of use to anyone. “Burned by the border commander,” they had been told. “Burned because they didn’t understand it—and the journals with it.”
Did the journals remain regardless, reconstituted, were they now to enter, walk up into the light room, undo the trap door, stare down as had the biologist? Would the reflected light from those frozen accounts irradiate their thoughts, contaminate their dreams, forever trapped by that vision? Or would they find just a mountain of ashes? She did not want to find out.